As you may or may not know, this summer I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the land down under through my Master’s grad coursework through the Project Dragonfly program! To be honest, I could not believe I was actually going to follow through on this trip while I was thinking of the high cost, the long flight, oh my! This trip had been a lifelong dream of mine, ever since I had read about Meggie and Ralph and seen the TV mini-series The Thorn Birds. It was from that moment forward that I had been crazy about this unique continent, both with its genuine, fun people and it’s unique environments and wildlife.
I’m a lover of animals. I’ve been drawing them extensively all my life and quite honestly, I’ve felt more close to animals than most other people. I have this sense that I can understand their thinking and what they’re feeling, kind of like we are a part of one another. I will blame all of this on the fact that I’m an only child and many types of animals kept me company, were my playmates and often my listeners when I needed someone to talk to. I know, weird.
So it’s no wonder that heading off to Australia, I am most in amazement about all of it’s amazing creatures. Getting there a weekend early before class started, I spent a lot of time with my classmate Peggy. Oh how we walked and walked! It was at the moment that we were walking along a shipping pier that we saw a huge grouping of lorikeets in one tree, swinging madly around, kissing one another and just in general, creating such a ruckus! Peggy and I just stared up at that tree for what seems like at least fifteen minutes, now knowing why we came to this beautiful land. Many pictures were taken although none of them were worth anything as they were all taken with an iPhone. The memory, however, is quite clear in my mind and will hopefully last forever.
So, school starts that following Monday. Staying at the Reef HQ Aquarium, we are told we can put our sleeping air mattress anywhere on this second floor. We can sleep next to the clown fish, we can sleep by the starfish tank, just simply, wow!! I mean, I’ve done this while living at home with my parents as we had over 100 tanks in our basement, but here we were, overlooking at 660,000 gallon tank that had sharks in it, and I was sleeping next to this??? That was just the start of the experiences I would encounter as part of my schooling.
There was rumor that we were going to hold koalas on Tuesday. Gee, can anyone confirm this? I think the anticipation amongst us was like that of children on Christmas Eve. Sure enough, we enter Bungalow Bay (www.bungalowbay.com.au), have a glass of cordial and there next to us is a koala on a small tree for display, just within five feet of us! Kookaburras were just around and about us looking for food. Small crocs, lizards, you name it were around on display for us to see. WELCOME TO AUSTRALIA!!
The following day was no WORSE! After a three hour boat ride out to Keeper’s Reef, I suddenly grew very apprehensive about just jumping into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. The clarity, the depth, the color…my senses were overwhelmed and I freaked!! Lol!!! Jumping into the water with the guidance of one of our instructors, Craig McGrogan, I looked down. A shark was just casually passing by underneath me, a black tip. I was now not scared at all but determined to look around. Now, I’ve seen all of these fish on the reef growing up, in small tanks, ready for sale. Here I was, the same beautiful set up but this time for real and at a much larger scale. Fish were everywhere and of every color. Clowns, angels, tangs, surgeons, you name it! But this is where they LIVED. Totally brought it home full circle to me in the story of my own life.
I will end this somewhat short story on another amazing animal experience. That of staying at the Hidden Valley Cabins up by the Paluma range, part of Australia’s rainforest ecosystem (www.hiddenvalleycabins.com.au). Beautiful accommodations, but wait! Don’t get settled in yet because we are headed out in the bus to go see ourselves real, live platypus! Now this is the stuff that dreams are made of, and acting like children, we gathered around the lake in complete silence, except for the occasional crinkle of a wind breaker. Then they came! Well, as amazing as that was, we then left the lake to head back to the bus to discover an owl. Our guide worked to swoon it by calling it in its native tongue, lol. Time to head back to the cabin and this could have been the most fun to me…being completely dark outside now and listening to Australian stories told by our field guide, my eyes were glued to the road ahead. Here and there, wallaby were jumping past the bus, almost like ghosts with their eyes glowing in the headlamps.
Now for me, a girl growing up in the US Midwestern states, a girl used to being surrounded by deer, squirrels, raccoon and a ton of skunks, I was out of my element and loving it. There are no words for the amount of tears that were shed on the airplane ride home. I had been surrounded in a new world of animals and it just simply reinforced my life’s passion of saving them. It was in eighth grade that I made the oath to save one species from extinction. I am now on that path!!